[JD Scott]

Michigan 74, Binghamton 52 Comment Count

Alex Cook December 30th, 2018 at 3:49 PM

For most of the game, Michigan struggled with Binghamton, who entered today ranked 331st nationally by Kenpom. A soft Bearcat zone was designed to give Michigan’s wings open looks from the mid-range — the Wolverines obliged, and bricked a ton of jumpers. With just under 12 minutes left, Binghamton’s Sam Sessoms hit a tough layup over Jon Teske to cut the deficit to three. From there, Michigan closed the game on an extended 28-9 run (featuring a very effective Isaiah Livers at the five) and finished with a comfortable margin of victory that belies how competitive the game was.

The Wolverine offense was perfect to start the game: Jordan Poole hit a deep three over Binghamton’s 2-3 zone, assisted Ignas Brazdeikis on a give-and-go three, and made another three of his own from the same spot on the wing as his first. Within the first three possessions, Michigan had opened up a 9-3 lead, but didn’t score again for six minutes. That drought started with misses in the paint against the Binghamton zone, which had extended to deter outside shots. Charles Matthews missed one of his trademark fadeaways (and struggled with that shot all game) as well as an awkward euro floater; Iggy short-armed a free throw line jumper and missed a few floaters that led to run-outs for the Bearcats.

The Wolverines found that defensive dynamic difficult all game, and wound up shooting just 5-26 on two-point attempts that weren’t classified as dunks or layups. Michigan consistently found great looks on those types of shots; Binghamton stuck to shooters on most possessions instead of sinking down into the middle of the zone and their undersized five, Chancellor Barnard, essentially conceded jumpers instead of leaving the restricted area to contest shots. Matthews took those shots in rhythm and kept on missing; Iggy eventually started to drive more, but he took and missed his share of mid-range shots; Teske — who may have been out of sync after getting benched with an early foul — was off on several pick-and-pop shots from the free throw line area.

Binghamton kept on giving Michigan wide open looks, and Michigan kept on missing, which is how one of the worst teams in the country managed to hang with a top five squad well into the second half. Michigan looked to be on the verge of opening a substantial lead a few times, but the Bearcats stayed close: an alley-oop to Livers put Michigan’s lead at seven in the first half, then Michigan came up empty on several possessions; three-pointers by Poole early in the second half were responded to with Binghamton buckets. Poole’s presence on the wing commanded plenty of attention from the defense, but he kept on extending his range and finished 6-10 from behind the arc.

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Until Michigan’s run to put the game away, Binghamton managed to find fairly decent looks against the Wolverine defense: Barnard scored a couple times off the pick-and-roll, and Caleb Stewart won a few of his one-on-one battles against Matthews (but lost more) and got open for clean looks from three-point range. Michigan still was able to force the Bearcats into a lot of tough looks around the basket and didn’t allow a made three-pointer in the second half. After Sessoms hit that shot over Teske to put the score at 46-43, Michigan held the Bearcats to eight straight empty possessions (which included shot clock violations, a missed set of free throws, and multiple careless turnovers), and by the time they scored again, the Wolverines had pulled out to a 14-point lead.

Livers was essential as a part of that run, and he looked more comfortable operating against the zone than any of his teammates (except for perhaps Zavier Simpson, who had 10 assists and should have had several more with the excellent looks he helped generate). John Beilein opted to have Livers play the five for that decisive stretch midway through the second half, and it worked out well on both ends of the floor. Livers knocked down a turnaround jumper; he stole a pass that would have been an easy two points for Binghamton; he pulled down an offensive rebound that led to second-chance points for Iggy; he drove and scored at the rim after catching in the middle of the zone; he made a pick-and-pop three. Livers finished with 17 points on just 10 shots.

Towards the end of the game, Michigan started attacking the zone more effectively by driving and trying to score over Barnard. Livers showed a better feel and more confidence off the dribble than he had in any other game thus far in his college career, and Brazdeikis eventually stopped settling and tried to get to his left hand around the basket through traffic (he also knocked down two threes late in the second half). As the outcome was being decided, Iggy went on a bit of a scoring run, and finished with a game-high 21 points. Ultimately, the zone worked as intended for Binghamton: Michigan took — and missed — the shots that were given to them, but the Wolverines hit over half of their relatively limited three-point attempts (mostly thanks to Poole) and still managed to get to 1.16 points per possession.

This win ends the most awkward portion of Michigan’s schedule — the latter part of the non-conference season featured most of the Wolverines’ least difficult opponents spread out over several days, but none of the wins were especially easy. Michigan hasn’t played as well as they did early on in the season: per Torvik, the Wolverines were the best team in the country in the month of November, and are 16th so far in December. Still, their undefeated record is intact, and Big Ten play starts with a home game against Penn State on Thursday.

[Box score after the JUMP]

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December 30th, 2018 at 4:20 PM ^

I'm amazed that Simpson had 10 assists after a game like that. 

Also, interesting that Livers was the Kenpom MVP despite Poole having a higher ORating in more minutes.


December 31st, 2018 at 4:09 PM ^

Simpson's assist numbers are surprising except that's what he is supposed to do.  To me, much more of a story and perhaps fundamental to the way the game went is that he actually led all rebounders in the game with 9.  That isn't the first time that has happened this year.  Amazing and no doubt necessary to win the game.  Another rebound and he would have had a double-double while scoring only two points.  Poole and Brezdaikas may have had the points but without Simpson, they lose the game (without Simpson they would have had fewer points).


December 31st, 2018 at 4:18 PM ^

Eh, those rebounds are largely about their defensive rebounding philosophy.  Since Teske isn't the quickest and most athletic guy, they just ask him to box his man out to make sure the oppositions (likely) best offensive rebounder can't get it.  Everyone else boxes out and Z just goes and gets the ball. 

You give up some ability to run because instead of your bigs getting the board and then throwing an outlet to the PG, the PG has to start with the ball closer to the basket.  But it's a more effective way to rebound and a big reason why M is 12th in the country at defensive rebounding (out of 351).

Contrast that to last year when Wagner, who is a bit more spry than Teske, was much more aggressive at going after DREBs and got a quarter of the opposition's rebounds (compared to 18% for Teske).  Z got a lot fewer DREBs with that strategy.  It's not that he suddenly improved his rebounding, the other guys are just more focused on holding their position and letting him grab it.


December 31st, 2018 at 4:31 PM ^

Livers made up for fewer minutes by having much higher usage (22% v. 13% for Poole).

So Poole was like a role player for 39 minutes and Livers was a major contributor for his 25 min such that they ended up using the same number of possessions when you count shots + TOs and had 18 and 17 points, respectively.

I'm sure it was very close for MVP though.  I wonder if the algorithm factors in plus-minus because Livers was integral in the game winning run at the end of the game.  That and his higher Reb and steal numbers must have been what made up for Poole being slightly more efficient.


December 30th, 2018 at 4:23 PM ^

I was at the game, and sat closer than I usually do.  It seemed like Matthews missed 10 shots from short range.  I really think that Poole's 3 point prowess in the first half, and the D in the 2nd saved us from a nerve-wracking game down the stretch.  

Am I the only one, or does it seem like Michigan always struggles against the 2-3 zone?  Obviously Syracuse played us very tough in the final four, but I also remember a few years ago EMU ran it and we had a tougher than I would've expected.


December 30th, 2018 at 4:36 PM ^

Matthews is just ugh. He is so choppy in the half court. Teske was bad too, you’re 7’1 make your damn bunnies. Our defense just doesn’t look as good either, Ethan Happ will shred Teske. So will Nick Ward.  Loved Livers play today, that man can jump. I’m excited for Thursday to truly see if these last few games against crappy teams were just a product of the long lay offs, or there are serious issues with this team.


December 30th, 2018 at 4:57 PM ^

“Serious issues” and not good enough to be number 1 in the country are different ends of the spectrum.  Our expectations are very high and clearly there is room for improvement, they certainly don’t look like a national championship team right now, but I think it’s a little extreme to say there are potentially “serious issues” with a team that is undefeated.  

True Blue Grit

December 30th, 2018 at 5:13 PM ^

Teske was clearly off his game today.   Maybe he was under the weather, who knows.  He clearly wasn't playing as aggressive or with an attitude.  That's likely why Beilein gave so many minutes to Livers (and the fact Livers was having such a good game).  But I certainly wouldn't give up on him.  He's still playing much better than last year and will be a vital cog in the Wolverine machine for the rest of the season.  


December 30th, 2018 at 6:56 PM ^

Nick Ward is going to struggle against Teske as long as the whistles are consistent.  Ward has struggled against teams with active interior defense, and his poor passing hurts MSU's offense.  Happ is a beast but Wisconsin lost to WKU and looked like a team that doesn't have a ton of offensive options when he's not out there.  This team isn't playing like a #1 seed, but they don't have issues any more serious than anyone not named Duke.


December 30th, 2018 at 5:19 PM ^

Even though the freshmen played for like 1 minute of garbage time, I liked what I saw from Johns and DeJulius. Blocking a 3 pointer takes a lot of talent, timing and athleticism and even though that was Johns one actually basketball play, it was really impressive. DeJulius with the steal and finish was also nice to see. Also, Castleton getting the ball down low in the post, dribbling towards the basket and staying controlled, getting double teamed, then being able to find and pass to the open man was something small, but important for a freshman, who might usually panic and put up a bad shot


December 31st, 2018 at 9:34 AM ^

45 2-pt attempts, 6 FT attempts. I am not surprised if Matthews and Simpson are pulling up for floaters instead of going to the rim (such as Simpson can) to avoid getting fouled and going to the line, but everyone else needs to stop that nonsense and go hard to the rim, get fouled if they have to, and force the issue rather than tossing up these little awkward in-between jumpers and floaters in the lane.


December 31st, 2018 at 11:19 AM ^

Well Simpson took 1 shot in the game, and I believe Matthews FT% is approaching respectable this season. So FT avoidance is NOT what was happening .

They took what the defense gave them. As Coach B said postgame "I told the guys - I don't have any more plays to run. You're getting open shots - MAKE THEM!"

That's where I stand as well.

Matthews & Iggy definitely settled for open 12+ footers rather than fight through for contested closer shots on occasion, but really, just MAKE THEM!



December 31st, 2018 at 4:36 PM ^

Eh, I don't necessarily agree with that philosophy.  I didn't watch the first 33 min of the game so I don't know what kind of shots they were getting and taking but a defense will give most players open 15-18 footers ALL DAY LONG.

Just because it's open doesn't make it a good shot.  If it's open because the defense wants you to take it, it's probably a bad shot.  So no, your offense isn't effective if it's getting mediocre shooters (like Matthews, Teske and Z) open 18 footers.

Agree that M had to stop settling for lowish percentage, low reward long twos (if that's what they were taking) and get to the hole.  The part of the game I saw featured Iggy and Livers taking at the guy in the middle and that's what you have to do against a guy that's not a shot blocker.  Give yourself an easier, closer shot and/or give yourself a chance to get fouled or draw the defender for a Kobe-assist.